Dare to be Durga

Priya Varadarajan talks about her organisation’s alarm system meant for women’s safety in public transport.

March 13, 2015 08:21 pm | Updated 08:23 pm IST



The Delhi gangrape which shook the nation in 2012, made Priya Varadarajan, a Bangalore-based chartered accountant, take a firm resolve. She decided that “something needs to be done with skill building among Indian women to recognise behaviour and identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour so that they can respond to it better.”

The result is Durga, a vibrant citizen’s initiative facilitating women and children address harassment through life skills. It conducts workshops and sensitising programmes for women and children and also is involved in creating safer spaces for them.

Recently, her organisation came up with an alarm system to ensure women’s safety in our public transport, the presence of a similar system could have saved Nirbhaya. Two years after the horrific incident, Varadarajan, in an email interview, highlights that public transport is still a vital space where women are harassed. “Through research, we found that almost 99 per cent women go through harassment in confined spaces and public transport is a big part of this. So we thought of developing a simple tool where women (who otherwise are shy to raise their voice against harassment) will only need to raise a finger and press the switch to cause an alarm,” she states. Excerpts from the interview:

How does the Durga Alarm work?

When a perpetrator looks threateningly at a woman or starts harassing her in a public bus, she can press the alarm button placed in multiple locations of the vehicle. This will, in turn, trigger an alarm within the bus and some flashing of lights inside it. When this happens, the driver is empowered to mandatorily stop the vehicle and try to ensure that everything is fine.

Also, at the next stage (once we get Police approval post the pilot project), there will be a different flashing of lights outside the vehicle too, to send out a message to traffic cops and passersby that there is a problem in the bus. This will draw immediate attention to the moving bus and alert everyone both inside and outside it, a big deterrent to crime. The alarm can be fitted into buses, metro trains, autos and taxis.

How many buses have this alarm now?

We have fitted it into five BMTC buses in Bangalore.

So the Alarm makes women responsible for their safety?

Durga India is a citizen’s initiative, working on helping women and children address crime against themselves better. At this stage, we are creating women and children as thinkers and doers and be responsible for their own safety as well as the safety of others around them.

I feel that we have disconnected and externalised the issue enough to call everyone around us responsible for everything within us. This makes us lose control. Through Durga India and through the Durga Alarm, I’m keen to bring this control back to citizens. Control comes with responsibility and accountability. So when the Durga Alarm is raised, we have deliberately left the outcomes in the hands of the conductors, drivers and the passengers. The only thing that we say as Durga here is not to be aggressive, but be active!

What is the initial response of the public towards it? Does your organisation give any demonstration, etc. to the users?

We are in the pilot stage and are seeking feedback from passengers, both women and men and children and also from conductors and drivers. Women are delighted that they have some rescue mechanism now. They feel they can use buses even during late evenings more safely now.

We have been travelling in these buses through volunteer groups and giving demos and leaflets to people

What next?

We are keen to do this pilot for another month and then start looking at buses everywhere. If it works in one city, it will work everywhere. People are the same and their needs too. We are actively looking for some philanthropists to fund this project so that there will be more places we can take this to. Asking funding from transport organisations for this will be a non-starter. Hence, we need support from philanthropists and corporate houses.

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